Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge (part 1)

I've signed up to the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. It's a writing competition that runs all the way until December (well, it does if you're lucky enough to get through all the rounds to the final!)

There are so many people doing this competition! I'm in group number 48. The group contains 35 writers, and there are 60 groups, so that's 2100 writers altogether! Yikes. Scary odds. But hey, even if I don't get anywhere, it'll be nice to get a few stories out of it.

How does it work? Well, you get assigned a genre, a location, and an object... then have to produce up to 1,000 words of quality flash fic in just one weekend. The story has to be written according to the given genre, and must take place at the given location. The object, luckily, only needs to be mentioned in the story rather than play an important part... which is good because some of the objects are kinda random! (Imagine trying to write a 1,000-word story set in a casino that somehow features a toothbrush.)

So you only get 48 hours to write a story! The problem with such a short deadline is that you pretty much have to write and shape the story on Saturday, in order to leave time to sleep on it before some hard-core editing and polishing on the Sunday.

Assignment examples:
  • Genre: Thriller, Location: A blood bank, Object: A poker chip.
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy, Location: A jewellery shop, Object: A slice of lemon.
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Location: A castle, Object: A thimble.

That third example above is actually the assignment I was given. So I had to write a historical fiction story set in a castle, and I needed to mention a thimble at some point. My mind immediately went blank. Thanks, Brain.

It took me ages to come up with an idea - nearly the whole of the Saturday! - but I got there in the end by finding what I think is a method that will work for next time. Here's what I did:

Mark's dodgy method for writing fast flash fiction for the NYC competition:
  1. Eliminate the object. The object only needs to be mentioned, so forget about it for now (especially if your object is something like a thimble, which sounds incredibly dull and makes my mind go completely blank!)
  2. Read about your genre. They have a page of genre definitions on their site which is pretty darn useful because it basically tells you exactly how to write your story.
  3. Brainstorm the genre and the location to find the story. In a way, I think I was lucky here. If you write an oldie-worldy sort of story set in a castle then it should sound at least vaguely historical. (And, seeing as there are only 48 hours of playtime, you have to look for shortcuts!)
  4. Write the story. Here's where you do the usual thing for first drafts. Freewrite the tale as fast as possible! Splurge, splurge, splurge! Don't let that pen (or those typing fingers) stop moving! Aim for more than 1,000 words, so you have plenty to trim and tighten.
  5. Add the object. If you haven't managed to mention the object in your story then find a place to cram it in. Although when you were splurging, the object was in the back of your mind so maybe you'll be lucky and find your brain's magically found a place for it already.
  6. Check the genre and location. The idea here is to double check that the story you've just splurged into the page hasn't gone off in a weird direction. Does it actually match the brief? For example, here I'm writing historical fiction and therefore a dragon is probably not a good character (because the judges would say, "No, that's fantasy - disqualified!")  
  7. Research. (This is an extra step just for historical fiction.) Check all your details! Yes, I know, normally for historical fiction you'd do all the research first but there's simply no time for such shenanigans if you only have 48 hours. Writers love to procrastinate, and research is the perfect procrastination tool (because it feels like you're doing something constructive right up until 5 minutes before the deadline, whereupon you suddenly panic because you've not even written the title yet). So write the story first - get the essence of it down - and then fix the inaccuracies.
  8. Polish. Trim, trim, trim! Make those words pop!
  9. Submit. Don't leave it until the last minute because, well... come here... bit closer... *whispers* don't tell my laptop I said this, but computers love to try and screw you over when you're pushed for time.

So I have a method, but the big problem, as always, is finding a good story. The tight deadline results in a massive amount of pressure. Each passing hour really does count! And it's scary to settle on an idea because of course you never really find out if a story is good or not until you finish the thing and read it after a break.

I had an idea but Brain was silent and refused to help. I gave up and went out to have a swim, feeling that I'd failed already! Luckily, Brain was kind enough to write the first and last lines for me while I was in the water... and after that I just needed to splurge out the middle bit!

So the story's submitted and apparently the judges will provide feedback. And, hopefully, some points! The scoring system is a bit complicated but basically you write two stories in Round 1. And the total score for BOTH stories needs to be ranked in the top 5 (out of the 35 in your group) for you to progress to Round 2.

The next bit of the competition happens in September. The July story and the September story are counted together as the entry for Round 1. If those two stories together get me ranked in the top 5 (of the 35 in my group) then I go on to Round 2 in November.

I think the timing is the scariest bit of this competition... it's spread throughout the year and, on the competition weekends, I have to be completely sure of a good internet connection and lots of peace and quiet to think. I'm currently moving around a lot so 2016 may not have been the best year to participate! :-/

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Said the doctor...

Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis have accepted Said the Doctor!

It's a silly/surreal poem that's vaguely in the style of Lewis Carroll's "You Are Old, Father William" :-)

Friday, 1 July 2016

A million words in 2016 (July)

I'm writing a million words in 2016!

Below is the progress diary for July (I'll be updating it as the month goes on). If you're interested, here's the intro, and here are the diaries for January, February, March, April, May and June.

The red number in the right-hand column is the total word count. Please wish me luck in watching that number tick up to 1,000,000 over the rest of the year!

The Million-Word Diary: July

1st July839,330
The "million words" project is stalled at the moment because my poor old faithful laptop died a horrible death. It's okay though - I've buried it in a Pet Sematary so it's sure to be resurrected. In the meantime, I've ordered a new one! Come on, New Laptop, hurry up and get here! 

5th July839,330
Still no laptop but I'm writing a few bits and pieces occasionally. After all that typing-up-of-notebooks, however, I'm really not keen to write longhand ever again! 

There was a nice moment today. I had a piece published called Hybrid Herd. It's only 50 words long, but that 50 words has taken me to a new milestone... I now have over 25,000 words in print! :-) 

Well... it's 25,041 to be precise! Yes, I do keep a record of what's been published... is that a bad thing? :-)

In other news: According to the postal tracking info, New Laptop is having quite an adventurous journey! A week ago it left from Edinburgh, then passed through Preston, Tamworth, and Barking. On it bounced to Germany, and is now apparently somewhere in Milan. Come on, little laptop. Hurry up and get here! Come help me get back to failing to write a novel :-)

17th July839,330
It's here! New Laptop is here! God, I never realised just how much I rely on having a laptop these days! How did anyone manage to write books in the days before computers? It can't have been possible, can it?! They must have all travelled into the future, typed everything on a handy keyboard, then travelled back with a completed manuscript. That's the only possible explanation.

I spent far more on this machine than I should have, but there's another year before my credit card starts charging interest so for now I'm just going to forget how much I spent and worry about it later. *gulp*

Slight teething trouble, though. I made the mistake of installing Windows updates. Ouch. Nothing worked and, then I had a big fight with the blue screen of death (which, these days, is a much more pleasing shade of blue). Finally, I had to reset the whole thing. And this happened after a day - yes, a FULL DAY - of sitting at an Internet Cafe, installing all the software gubbins that I need. So I had to start all over again. 

Sigh... I'm starting to get the feeling that God does not want me to write my novel. That's probably because he's already read the ending and knows it doesn't end happily! :-)

Word count is still stuck at 839k because I'm still setting things up. Did you know you have to subscribe to MS Office these days? They want $10 a month, the gits! If they get that much from everyone who uses it then they'll be rolling in gold. Haven't they screwed us over enough?

20th July840,452
Am attempting to get my head back into "writing mode" by typing up a few of the flash fictions I wrote longhand while waiting for the new laptop to arrive. Sadly there's not much... after all that typing-up I did last month, I just don't have the heart to write longhand any more! 

For the record, here's my progress graph since the start of the year. That long horizontal bit is very disheartening!

A long straight bit at the end... noooooo!

In other news, I'm a technical genius. Okay, I'm not... but I used the new laptop to fix the old laptop, which was kinda clever as the old one was very broken. And now I have two laptops, which obviously means I can write twice as much :-)

Typing up the flash fics gave me 1,122 words, so my total's now 840,452.

22nd July848,042
I was determined to get straight back into writing yesterday, but then slept instead. Oops. Ended up feeling horribly guilty, which must have helped motivation because today turned out a lot better! I started a new novel and am 7,590 words in after just one day. Yay! :-) It's not the most amazing of plots (it's a bit grim actually!) but I think it has legs. Eight legs, in fact, seeing as a huge spider is part of the plot. Total word count is now 848,042.

27th July849,380
The past few days have been a mixture of good and bad. The "good" is I wrote a story. The "bad" is that I was so pleased with my story that I haven't written anything since!  

The story came about because I've signed up to the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. It's a writing competition that runs all the way until December. You get told what to include in your story, and then have just 48 hours to smash out something amazing. It was hard work but I was really happy with the final result. 

As I said above, I've had a few "write nothing" days. Sad face. Word count for 23 July was 1,338, and then it was nothing at all (unless you count blog posts, which I don't!) 

Oh well, hopefully I'll get back into writing soon. Total is now 849,380.

31st July861,132
A few "blood out of a stone" days of writing and then had a proper glitch today - nothing done at all! After a month-ish without a laptop, my enthusiasm for writing seems to have died. 

Sad face. 

Sad face with extra tears. 

Just can't seem to get back into it... which feels horrible because it was all going so well. Admittedly the heat is pretty intense at the moment (my wimpy Englishness can't cope with the toasty Greek weather) but that's not really an excuse. Oh, and I'm trying to get used to a laptop with an American layout. Urgh. They tell you it's not that different but it is. It really is. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, a keyboard layout change is not a big deal... but when you're trying to smash out several thousands words a day, it's quite a big deal. Okay, to *me* it's a big deal, even though of course it's very much a first world problem.

Sigh... oh well, at least I've now passed the "150k to go" barrier. Word counts for 28-31 July were 3,653, 2,436, 5,663 and 0. Total is now 861,132.